While some people prefer to spend their vacation time on the beach or hitting the ski slopes, others prefer to spend their time touring wineries and sampling fine wine. I’m no wine expert. I haven’t studied the different types of grapes and harvesting methods, but I do know some of the wine that comes out of Washington State is pretty spectacular.
50 years ago, Washington State was not an area people would head to if they were interested in visiting wineries. In fact, 50 years ago there were no wineries in Washington State that were serious about making high quality table wine. In half a century, the region has flipped 360 degrees and has become the second most celebrated fine wine producing region in the United States. The number of wineries in the region has increased dramatically, and the Washington State Wine Commission has said a new winery opens every two weeks!
If you’re planning a trip around the wineries of Washington State, it definitely pays to do some planning. Ninety-nine percent of the wine grape production takes part in Eastern Washington, in the Columbia Valley to be exact. This is also the part of Washington that produces some of the most popular and finest cabernet sauvignons in America.
The best way to tour the wineries is to choose one region and make this area your focus. There are hundreds of wineries throughout the state; the best way to experience them all is by planning return trips and conquering small chunks of the region at a time. As the largest chunk of wine grape production is in Columbia Valley, this would be a good place to start. Columbia Valley was the second AVA in the Washington State (authorized in 1984) and it now encompasses seven of Washington States wine regions. It has over 16,000 vineyards and 100 wineries and covers 18,000 square miles and 11 million acres!
Featured by Wine Peeps as their ‘Best Winery for 2011’, Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville is a winery that should not be missed. Chateau Ste. Michelle runs winery tours and tastings for novices and wine experts, to help you gain an understanding and appreciation for wine making. It is, in fact, an art and a science! While you’re at Chateau Ste. Michelle be sure to check out their wine and food classes, various special events including their summer concert series and their chef dinners. The service here is also impeccable which makes the experience that much better.
Also situated in Woodinville is Columbia Winery. This winery became the first premium winery in Washington State in the early 1960s and continues to craft highly-acclaimed wines. Columbia Winery is situated directly across the Street from Chateau Ste. Michelle. The winery offers a glass of Columbia wine and a hot flatbread pizza which are very popular, however the flatbreads are only offered Wednesday – Sunday. You can also participate in a wine tasting with a knowledgeable wine educator who will guide you through five of their premium wines. This tasting is only $5 per person, however many will say the wine is ‘sub-par’ compared to what you get in the area. The service at this winery also leaves a lot to be desired, however it’s worth popping in to see the exquisite grounds and tasting some flatbread!
If you head deeper into the Columbia Valley, head to Anelare Tasting Studio in Kennewick. The tasting room is open Thursday to Sunday and other times by appointment. This award winning wine is named Anelare as it is the Italian word for ‘desire’ and ‘yearn for’. Most Anelare wines are not available in stores, so to visit the tasting studio is one of the only ways to sample this delight. The tasting studio was opened in 2009. You can taste wines at the bar for $10 per guest which is refundable with wine purchase or you can participate in a formal sit down tasting in the private room. This experience is $15 per person and the wine is paired with antipasti. Guests are also treated to a discussion about the wine and the history of Anelare.
Of course this is only three of hundreds of wineries in the Columbia Valley. Some wineries include accommodation, some purely sell wine while others have full restaurants for you to enjoy.
Have you been on a winery tour of Washington State before? What was your favorite winery?